The final stage of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana ended today with a mass sprint. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-BikeExchange) took the stage honours ahead of Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quickstep). Kristian Sbaragli put in another strong sprint to claim 4th place for our African Team. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won the Vuelta a Espana overall.
It was a late afternoon start in Las Rozas as the peloton rolled away for the final 104km stage to Madrid. The early part of the stage saw riders able to enjoy the opening kilometers at comfortable pace and reflecting on the last 3 tough weeks, which included many ups and downs for all teams. As expected the finale on the city circuit ended in a mass sprint.
For Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, we certainly had our difficult days at this year’s Vuelta when we lost Igor Anton and Nathan Haas to illness. Jacques Janse van Rensburg crashed heavily on stage 14 but despite fractures to his collarbone, hip and ribs, Janse van Rensburg fought valiantly to finish the final 130km of that particular stage. It was that fighting spirit that also brought our African Team some great success at this year’s Spanish grand tour.
Kristian Sbaragli was once again in the the thick of things during the mass sprints and our Italian notched up 6 top 10 finishes, twice placing 4th on a stage. Anton and Haas both also came close to the elusive stage win we were chasing but had to settle for 7th and 5th respectively during stages in the opening week of the race. Merhawi Kudus and Jaco Venter completed their 4th Grand Tours, while Nic Dougall successfully completed his debut 3-week race. Tyler Farrar captained the team throughout the tour and his contribution on a daily basis was truly invaluable.
The absolute highlight of the race for our African Team though was Omar Fraile and his exploits in the mountains. Having never won a competition classification and jersey at a grand tour before, it was our African Teams goal to win the King of the Mountains jersey at the Vuelta a Espana.
While Fraile may have only won back the jersey on yesterday’s penultimate stage, we look back to his performance on stage 10 as the stage where the jersey was won. Fraile, after being distanced from the breakaway, latched onto the GC favourites as they came by and our Basque climber turned himself inside out to finish 4th on the stage. A remarkable performance that goes down in the history books as for the first time an African Team wins a jersey classification at a grand tour.
Omar Fraile – Rider
It has been a very tough Vuelta a Espana this year. We were riding well as a team but the stage win was just not going our way. I really wanted to win the Mountains jersey again, I was motivated and it was a big goal for the team. It was difficult becuase Elissonde was very strong and the stages were extremely tough. I am so happy I could win the jersey in the end and stand on the podium for my teammates and for Qhubeka for the first time. We worked hard for this jersey and I want to thank all the team and everyone who supported me.